Tiny Vietnam has a history of punching much above its weight, landing them squarely on the jaws of its opponents. Ask the French, the Americans or even ‘big brother’ China—in the past six decades all of them have been on the receiving end of gritty Vietnamese ire.
It, therefore, comes as no surprise when major international players make a renewed attempt to win Vietnam over to their side, especially at a time when the rise of an assertive China has begun to set the important waterways of the Indo-Pacific region roiling. “Vietnam is being subjected to pulls and pressures from various countries because of developments in the region, especially in view of the proposed ‘Asia pivot’ of the US,” says N. Ravi, former secretary of the Union ministry of external affairs.
The so-called ‘pivot’ for Asia, announced by the US some years back to reassure its allies in the region in the wake of a ‘rising’ China, however, has not yet taken shape. Sceptics wonder if it ever will, since they do not envisage the US pursuing or encouraging any policy that could lead to an overt confrontational path with China. Instead, there is a growing feeling among many Asian countries now, particularly those in China’s neighbourhood, that Washington may not be the ideal partner to deal with the threat from Beijing. Though this has led to a search for other alternative security structures to deal with the China challenge, a clear picture has not emerged.
The visit of Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Hanoi at this juncture, and her decision to hold an interactive session with Indian ambassadors from neighbouring countries, have led to speculations about the likely direction of future India-Vietnam relations. The fact that Sushma is in Vietnam to firm up details of the programme of President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to the country in September signals deepening ties.
“Cooperation between India and the ASEAN needs to be more effective and efficient as the security and development landscape is experiencing swift and complex conversions,” asserted Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Pham Binh Minh, while engaging think-tank members of India and ASEAN countries in Hanoi on Monday. During discussions between the two foreign ministers, the possibility of strengthening cooperation in the field of energy, trade and defence was emphasised. Vietnam has already awarded India seven oil and gas blocks in the disputed South China Sea, the exploration work on which could heighten tension among the involved parties.
However, much of what is being done by China, Vietnam or India is also being seen as part of their diplomatic posturing. Their concerns about Chinese assertiveness notwithstanding, neither Vietnam nor India desires any outright confrontation with Beijing at this juncture. But they also realise that they should engage with each other as well as with other regional countries to pursue options to counter the Chinese challenge. China is the largest trading partner for India and Vietnam and their biggest and most important neighbour. But they can expect a better and reasonable behaviour from China as long as they keep hedging about their growing ties to keep Beijing guessing about its outcome.
“Notionally, Vietnam is a country that cannot be taken lightly. This they have shown many times in the past and, if need be, they can show that again,” says Ravi. This definitely would be the message that Hanoi would like to convey to the Chinese. If that happens, there is little doubt that India or other Asian neighbours are not going to object.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Amazing telepathy between me and the columnist ! The moment I saw the heading, thought the comment I would post would be that the good Vietnamese have always punched above their weight. They have held their ground against # 1 and # 2 on different occasions, even their economy has shown great promise. If the mighty would learn from the small, for this is a civilised world order, not the Serengeti, the lesson is that the essential equality of sovereign nations should be respected.
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